As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, May 15, 2009

Dawn Johnsen A Pawn In The Student Loan Privatization Game?

We now have a clear picture of why Dawn Johnsen has not been confirmed to head up the Obama Administration's Office of Legal Counsel. Key legal questions on Administration policies are being left unchallenged by a true civil libertarian because a couple Democrats refuse to allow an up or down vote.

Here are the numbers as they stand right now:

Votes Against Johnsen: 37 Republicans

Votes for Johnsen: 57 Democrats plus Indiana Republican Richard Lugar

Undecideds: Republicans Olypmia Snowe and Susan Collins and Democrats Arlen Specter and Ben Nelson

Reid frames the issue by saying he needs a couple Republicans to cross the line before he has the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster. But as the numbers show, it's just as much an issue of Reid not being able to muster the entire Democratic caucus in support of Johnsen.

Specter has been noncommital on whether he would vote for cloture. But Ben Nelson is basically opposed entirely and that's holding the whole thing up. During the Bush years, Nelson very willingly supported almost all of Bush's most controversial judicial and executive branch appointments, while fighting harder against the President of his own party. I agree with Christy Hardin Smith that Nelson is fishing:

And the latest from Nelson's press secretary? Johnsen worked for NARAL.

No. You are kidding me --a pro-choice president in a pro-choice country nominated a pro-choice attorney to an office where she won't even be dealing with abortion issues. And that's objectionable.

It's a mystery.

And then? I did a little digging. I think Ben Nelson is fishing:

Nelson is perhaps the Senate's fiercest protector of subsidies for student lending institutions, which, not coincidentally, are an engine of job growth in Nebraska. He has vowed to block any effort to reduce those subsidies. And given that Democrats have 58 members and generally need 60 to break a GOP filibuster, he can enforce his will on his colleagues....Multiple congressional sources say that congressional Democrats have decided to use reconciliation to go after student-lending subsidies, specifically to get around Nelson.

Nelson is holding up Obama Administration appointments so he can save his student loan middleman and increase the burden on students. Now that's cynical.

But as Christy notes, there's a way around this, especially for a popular President. Yes, Reid could just wait for the extra vote of Al Franken and make Nelson, at least in this case, irrelevant. But the President could also loudly suggest to the people of Nebraska that their Senator is vindictively withholding the ability of his White House to do their job because Ben Nelson wants to punish students some more. And that might generate some opposition inside Nebraska, particularly the Omaha area where Obama WON. Unless we are to conclude that Obama would rather not waste political capital on having a strong civil liberties voice at the Office of Legal Counsel.

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